The San Juan Daily Star
Study: Burial practices in ancient PR were similar at different sites across centuries
By The Star Staff
Ancient Puerto Ricans may have used the same burial sites and practices throughout many centuries, a peer-review study published in the Plos One journal said.
According to a Jerusalem Post report, which initially published the study, Puerto Rico has been inhabited since the third millennium BC, but little is known about this era since, prior to this study, scientists were only able to recover data from 20 individuals.
The researchers analyzed the remains of five individuals from southwestern Puerto Rico for the study. The remains were subjected to carbon dating analysis, whereby they were aged to be from roughly 1530 BCE to 1710 BCE. The data showed that the burial site in Cabo Rojo had been used for at least 1,000 years.
“This study assiduously documents the oldest burial from the island of Puerto Rico and provides detailed scientific and cultural insights into the lives of some of the earliest people to inhabit that island,” according to the Jerusalem Post. “We hope that this work contributes to the ongoing reframing of our understanding of the deep past of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.”
The bodies were mostly buried in a similar fashion, indicating that there was a consistent burial practice throughout hundreds of years. In addition, the burial practices were all consistent with burial practices at the Maruca site in Ponce, furthering the theory of standardized burial practice.
One of the bodies was found facing west, while the other four faced east. The western-facing body also had signs of having been burnt postmortem. All five bodies were buried with their legs fully extended. The individuals were believed to all be aged between 17 and 45 years old.
The bodies had all been buried with seashells, lithic, coral and ochre.
The researchers carried out strontium isotope testing, which proved that the individuals originated from near the burial site. That suggests that the site might have acted as a common mortuary space for multiple communities, although this has not yet been entirely confirmed, the report said.
Further testing also allowed the researchers to explore the ancient Puerto Rican diet. The researchers found that the individuals ate an omnivorous diet of plants and fish.